Friday, March 30, 2012

Hazing Troubles!

My college was located in the middle of a city, so while we had fraternities there never seemed to be reason to join one--most of their parties (free beer! Comely lasses of virtue true!) were open to the public and there were plenty of other options for inebriated joy in town. Apparently though, at some colleges located in the middle of nowhere, fraternities are so key to your social life that pledges are willing to swim in filth, get into vomit contests, and otherwise wipe away any shred of dignity that can never be regained. Because once you've swam in filth and willingly been vomited on by your dudebros, you can never be respected again.

Picture it--here you are, decades after graduating cum laude from Dartmouth, spending years in the U.S. Foreign Service, teaching at Georgetown School of Foreign Affairs, negotiated a test ban treaty, then nominated as Secretary of State. Your first meeting with the President of Russia, and he asks "hey I hear you were a brother at Sigma Kappa Omega." You nod yes, and then he follows up with "so at one point in your adult life you willingly allowed another pledge to vomit on you before you swam in a kiddie pool full of his filth?"

Now, I'm no teetotaler--this blog's title even laments the world's shortage of agave-based liquor--and think it's just fine for comrades to drink together as they bond. But why on earth would you ever want anyone to join your group if they had to debase themselves so thoroughly? Why would complete lack of self-respect be a plus? Loyalty, dedication, hard work, social qualities and connections are all good measurments for who you'd want in your frat--and there are good ways to test these things. In fact, the "kiddie pool of fecal matter" should, if anything, be a way to weed out weirdos and morons--anyone willing to do that in order to join should be told they failed the test.

But schools really shouldn't ban this type of hazing. It's Darwinian, really--anyone willingly subjecting themselves to such things is surely deserving of what they get.

Tea Time

This past week at work has been a trying one, because both tea machines on our floor were out for repairs and I'll be damned if I'm going to go down one floor to use their tea machine. Why a tea machine, you ask, reasonably? Well, my co-workers like things to be high tech, so rather than a hot water spigot and bags we instead have these fancy machines in which you put a cartridge, press some buttons, and a few minutes later you have a hot tea, flavored coffee, or cappucino that doesn't exactly taste like cappucino. This has been my tea delivery system for the past few years.

Why tea, you ask? Well I sort of fancy myself a proper gentleman and tea is the beverage of choice for those of us who like to enjoy our libations. Coffee I understand, as something for when you've been awake for forty hours and need to haul a load of hooch across the 'Sippi line ahead of them Duke Boys. My wife drinks coffee every day, not because she's a trucker but because she'll otherwise get stabby and I've grown fond of my skin in its current, unstabbed state. But I've preferred tea as a morning work ritual.

Now, we worker bees have become a bit spoiled when we fret over (temporarily) losing a perk, when at the end of the day an employer really only has to provide clean drinking water. So this is really more a reflection on how set in my ways I've become.

It won't be long before I'm yelling at those damn kids who won't get off my lawn.

*Yes I could bring in my own tea bags and boil some water in the microwave, but I never remember in the morning to bring any in.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Wednesday Reflections

1) Referring to someone as a "white hispanic" is assinine. What's next, the "gentile jew"? Keep finding those new lows, New York Times!

2) You know what I haven't heard enough about lately? This "Hunger Games" thing. If only the media would provide some coverage!

3) Maybe it's just me, but I think my neighborhood could really use a theater that only plays "mumblecore" films. It would draw exactly the clientele I need to open up my "pretentious hats" store.

4) They have really not done enough to cater to Americans' twin desires of chocolate and beer. Why so few choco-beers, brewing industry? Why?

5) If I'm a Supreme Court justice, then I've likely graduated near the top of my class at one of the country's top law schools, clerked for another Supreme Court justice, and spent many years of intense scholarship, legal practice, and likely a judgeship. I've also likely been through a ringer of a Senate hearing and confirmation, and reached the top of my profession. My decisions on Constitutional issues will be based on solid precedent and well reasoned analyses of the law. You know what won't sway my decisionmaking? A bunch of yahoos camped outside the courthouse with idiotic protest signs.

6) Remember when everyone was shocked a couple years ago when KFC invented a sandwich using two pieces of fried chicken as bread? We were so innocent then. Now Taco Bell has a taco using Dorito for the shell.

7) March Madness is that special time of the year when students at top basketball schools get to go wild rooting for a team of mercenary atheletes who happen to use their school's facilities but wouldn't be caught dead socializing with the regular students. It's good practice for the pros, when riff-raff around the city will hoot and holler for a team of even better paid athletes who will never associate with them and easily switch teams for better pay.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Thoughts on Florida Shooting

In the wake of the Trayvon Martin shooting, there has been much gnashing of teeth and rightly so--an unarmed teen gets killed by an overzealous neighborhood watch volunteer, and the local police (this was Sanford, Florida) make no arrests. The dribblings of information coming out of the incident make it more troublesome--the shooter was told by 911 operators to not follow the "suspicious" boy, and evidently he did anyway, and the racial element (Hispanic shooter, black victim) has made this a national story. A few thoughts on this:

1) The shooter--George Zimmerman--was apparently covered by Florida's "stand your ground" law that allows the self-defense defense to cover shooters who choose not to retreat when reasonably threatened. It's not clear whether Zimmerman felt "reasonably threatened", though this should be a matter for a criminal investigation--but this is the problem with such blanket rules. In theory, even a shooter acting unreasonably--stalking someone or picking a fight--can be let off once the threat is elevated, even if it is a threat they caused themselves. A better standard is one that considers all circumstances in determining if the shooter acted reasonably.

2) There's a lot of crowing that this is too focused on race, because we don't hear the media covering black kids who are being murdered by other blacks more frequently. Well, of course race is an issue here--it likely played a part in Zimmerman's decision to go after Martin, and there are accounts that he was making racial slurs over the phone immediately before confronting the black teen. I agree that it is a tragedy that black-on-black violence is treated by the media as something to be expected and not worthy of as much coverage--similar to how a missing rich white girl is going to get all sorts of copy while missing black kids will get ignored by the press. But this case is certainly newsworthy.

3) Can someone please pay Al Sharpton to go do some missionary work out in the middle of nowhere for a while? There has never been a case where anyone said "good thing Reverand Al was here to instill some calm and togetherness. His input has really improved things."

4) Recently leaked reports about Trayvon Martin's "gangsta" tweets and possible marijuana-related punishments at school are basically irrelevant--what does any of that have to do with whether Zimmerman was justified in shooting him?

5) There's been a lot of flak about Geraldo Rivera's suggestion that Martin should not have been wearing a hoodie since hoodies arouse suspicions. I agree with the backlash on this--it smacks of blaming the victim, sort of like saying a woman may have been raped because of her short skirt--but it is at least a discussion worth having. If dressing a certain way in certain neighborhoods is more likely to get you attacked by a bigot or a nut, then why risk your life trying to prove a point? Better to remain alive and find more effective ways to speak out against bigoted assumptions. Though it raises the question of whether even a nicely dressed Martin would have been confronted by Zimmerman.

6) Everyone's quick to jump to assumptions on this one, ranging from the "Zimmerman's totally a guilty racist nutjob" to "Martin was a troublemaker who attacked Zimmerman who acted in self defense" and you know what? Until all the evidence is collected you just don't know. The only thing we should be calling for right now is a full criminal investigation. This is why we have courts. Calling for one man's head or a dead kid's reputation to be trashed is not helpful.


The sports world is ablaze with much rending of garments over the issue of super-Christian and so-so quarterback Tim Tebow being traded to the New York Jets. The arguments against the trade that I've seen from Jet fans include the following:

1) Tebow sucks.

2) He's a holier than thou Christian who showboats his religion in an unseemly manner.

3) He dresses poorly.

4) He sucks.

As a longtime Ravens fan, I don't have a dog in this particular fight, and while I consider religion to be something most properly kept personal and free from public drama, I don't really have a problem with those that go public with theirs. (Professional sports has enough showboating and trash talking and nightclub shootings to worry about--a guy praying publicly is hardly the worst thing to happen in the NFL)

But for Jets fans, I offer this perspective--your team has been awful for a very long time. Sure, every few years it gets a winning season and gets smacked in the playoffs, but at this point it has been 43 years since the Jets appeared in a Super Bowl. There aren't a lot of teams that can match such a drought. Moreover, the Jets haven't had a famous player since Joe Namath (or possibly Joe Klecko). (I'm defining "famous" as "someone a casual football fan can name").

Tim Tebow, for better or worse, would at least get the Jets talked about. His onfield proselytizing and his church revivals held at Washington Square Park--in the heart of the West Village!--would bring fresh publicity for a team that has been the second best NFL team in the NYC area for a very long time.

So you hate the guy? Great! When it comes to the NFL, better to be hated than unknown.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Names for my Neighborhood

Giving a neighborhood just the right name can have a significant effect as to how it is perceived. For instance, "Penn Quarter" has a much hipper feel to it than "Phony Chinatown" and "Dupont Circle" just sounds a lot trendier than "Georgetown Adjacent". With the new ballpark district continuing to grow and gentrify, residents are debating between "Ballpark District" and "Capitol Riverfront" but one thing is certain--no way that neighborhood will ever go back to being called "South Stabbington Stab-Stab". It was hell on real estate agents.

I think of this when I consider that my own current neighborhood--wedged in between the SW Waterfront and the Mall--doesn't really have a name. I'd rather be able to explain to people where I live by simply mentioning the neighborhood name, much like someone saying "Columbia Heights" can let you infer that they are a hipster, or someone saying "Clarendon" can let you know they're a dudebro. Here are some proposed names for my neighborhood:

1) Space Alley (due to our proximity to NASA HQ)

2) Troll Canyon (due to having to walk under 395 to get to our neighborhood from the Mall)

3) Fallout (we're in the immediate blast zone if the Capitol were to be hit)

4) SW Valley (we're down the hill from Capitol Hill)

5) Concrete District (many federal buildings around here)

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

To Unbless a Road

In the so-called "war on religion" going on in this country, I've often found that the stakes involved--whether a public school can lead a prayer during morning announcements; whether our coins should mention "God" on them--are petty compared to the actual religous oppression going on elsewhere in the world. Still, the "battles" going on here in America are not without their interesting moments.

In the latest round between believers and atheists, neither side has run out of their sense of smug jerkishness. Some Christian group goes and "blesses" a highway in Florida, so an atheist group one-ups them by "unblessing" the highway.

Does this serve to prove anything? I'd think if you're a genuine atheist, you'd see the "blessing" by the Christians as a pointless exercise, sprinkling plain old water around and calling it holy. If that's the case--if the "blessing" is pure hokum--then doesn't it make more sense to ignore it the same way you'd ignore a baby muttering gibberish? By "unblessing" the highway, you're going beyond nonreligion and entering the dark world of anti-religion. You're accepting that there is something to the believers' beliefs, in that they must be countered. If you're a true atheist, any validation of these beliefs is sort of descending into madness, isn't it?

Better, I would think, to argue that the original blessing meant nothing and leave it at that. Or, maybe to ignore the whole thing, because if someone wants to believe that their sprinkling of water is doing some good, where's the harm in that? It's a far cry from forcing nonbelievers to accept something. On a scale of imposing one's beliefs, this seems fairly mild.

I guess though this is better than raging mobs burning one another's homes. Thank God our disputes are this petty.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Ah, Fawkes You and the Horse You Rode in on!

On common theme you often see at popular protests these days is the so called "pro-anarchist" Guy Fawkes mask. The masks look like this--surely you've seen them in photos of Occupy rallies and anti-war protests. The masks are a great way to determine that the person wearing one is either a crusader for Catholic domination or a blithering moron.

Guy Fawkes is somehow equated with anarchy because he was part of a plot in the early 1600s to blow up the British parliament house with the entire legislative branch present. Whoo! Stick it to the man! Except of course Fawkes wasn't trying to break down authority and create some sort of freedom loving utopia. Instead, he and his co-conspirators were fighting on behalf of a restoration of Catholic domination in Britain (still an issue less than a century after Henry VIII) and suppression of Protestants.

Now, Catholics were persecuted in England at that time, so one could sympathise somewhat with those fighting against "the man". But this hardly makes Fawkes a paragon of anti-authoritarianism--after all, could you really favor the papacy and be anti-authoritarian at the same time?

Other incongruous uses of famous figures' likenesses include:

1) Hipster liberals wearing Che Guevara's image, considering Che was too busy slaughtering dissidents to shrug ironically and drink PBR.

2) White frat guys wearing Bob Marley, considering the late singer was not known to ever ONCE perform at a raging kegger for Kappa Sigma house with the dudebros.

3) Conservatives wearing Reagan buttons, considering the man agreed to tax increases, pulled the Marines out of Lebanon after our barracks were bombed, and advanced detente with the Russians.

4) College kids with Albert Einstein's photo on their wall, since Einstein never would have struck out with that hot chick from Sociology 101.

Tuesday Thoughts

1) The whole "buy local" foodie movement makes no sense. Some places simply make things better than others--who wants a Michigan orange or Maine beef or an Indiana lobster? Safe and inexpensive transport has been a blessing.

2) Tourons crowding around the tidal basin to see the cherry blossoms should note that there are cherry blossoms all over the city and suburbs. They can avoid the crowds by walking along the median of I-66.

3) The new Metro system map has blank, empty circles for the stations on the new Silver Line (left side of the map). Am I alone in thinking this is absolutely pointless? What reader is going to say "hey, there will be stops somewhere northwest of Falls Church some day! I have no idea where those stops will be exactly, but hey!"?

4) Somewhere, there must be a driving school that is teaching people that "when someone is trying to merge into your lane, speed up because the high likelihood of a serious accident is a small price to pay to save yourself one car length."

5) There are still people out there that do not see a connection between regulations and policies that make it difficult to build more housing in a given area, and the extremely high housing costs (in rents and sales) for that area. Unfortunately, these people all happen to run big city governments.

6) Dark chocolate dessert pizza should really be a thing. And yes, I'm sure it exists somewhere, but that doesn't make it "a thing"--it should be available on every street corner. I'm not saying all the world's problems would be solved with such a concoction, but we won't know for sure until we try.

Monday, March 19, 2012

U.S.A., You've Been Invaded

Much is made of Hollywood's nefarious liberal agenda, and there is something to those criticisms--mainstream films tend to carry a political slant that favors the mainstream left, often romanticizing communists (like in the movie "Reds") or unions ("Norma Rae") or making mockery of posted speed limits ("Smokey and the Bandit"). But for all you conservative complainers out there, I have this to say--when Hollywood tilts to a conservative agenda, it gets hilariously far worse.

I submit to you the mid-'80s--Reagan's landslide re-election was timed to meet with blockbuster films involving conservative action heroes, such as Arnold Schwartzenegger in "Commando", Sly Stallone in "Rambo II" and Chuck Norris in "Invasion U.S.A."

I was living in France when "Invasion U.S.A." came out, and when I saw the movie posters my assumption was that this was the bastardized Frenchified title of movie that probably had a less stupid-sounding English title. (For example, when "Raising Arizona" came out, the French posters called it "Arizona Junior". When "Delta Force" came out, the French posters called it "Le Blowup du Americain, Avec Avion"). So I assumed "Invasion U.S.A." was really something less stupid-sounding, like "Cold Steel and Hot Nights" or "Beard and Fists".

Nope--the movie really is called "Invasion U.S.A."! And the film itself--finally viewed yesterday--is every bit as absurd as the image of Chuck Norris firing twin Uzis at the camera. Look out, good taste! You're about to get Chucked!

The film features an evil terrorist mastermind whose brilliant plan is to use WWII style landing crafts to bring hundreds of terrorist baddies onto the Florida shores and begin wreaking random havoc on Americans. Clearly, these surplus landing crafts made much more sense than just sneaking them in minivans across the Canadian border--and clearly our Coast Guard is too busy picking up rafts filled with poor Haitians to notice several massive vessels streaming over from somewhere (it is not clear where the disembarkation point was, but if you start asking questions like that, you're not ready for this movie). The mayhem caused by the terrorists is as mindless as you'd expect--firing rockets into houses at a cul-de-sac (during Xmas, no less!), dressing as cops to shoot Hispanics at a street party, gunning down shoppers at a mall--and this might be compelling if they had the decency to explain to the viewing audience what their agenda was. In "Die Hard", for example, the bad guys wanted money, in "Delta Force" it was about getting jailed terrorists freed. Here, the violence just seems pointless, though the breakdown of order and advance towards a military state is hinted on, and could have been an interesting issue to explore. How do we balance our freedoms with security?

Instead, we get Chuck Norris, who is apparently some former top government operative, now working at wrangling gators in the Florida swamps. He comes out of retirement--with a vengeance! Do I really need to explain how he stops the terrorists? Since this is a Chuck Norris vehicle, let's just say it involves a lot of roundhouse kicks, explosions, shootings and terrible one-liners.

But despite the conservative message of the film--foreigners are basically bad evil terrorists who hate America and Xmas and reporters are just annoying--there's also a bit of a subversive theme here too. Essentially, our reliance on defense and police spending is a total waste--the only thing that can stop an army of terrorists is Chuck Norris.

Friday, March 16, 2012

St. Patricks Day, a Little Known Italian Holiday

St. Patricks Day is more than just a "dudebro" holiday for the various spiky haired popped collared hoi polloi--it is also a very solemn day of celebration for those who enjoy imbibing fine Irish beverages. That would be Baileys for the weak-hearted, Guinness (if you're pro-Catholic) or Murphys (if ye can't stand them papists!) for those with taste and refinement, or whiskey for those who are just trying to make the pain go away. But one problem remains--what to eat on this holy day?

Let's face it--Irish food just isn't exactly world-reknowned, like French or Norwegian food. The Irish usually spend their days eating soda bread and potatoes, or salted codfish when it's a special occasion. This is due to centuries of the English taking all the delicious recipies from the Emerald Isle, such as . . . well, okay someone must have stolen the good recipes from England too.

But I found a loophole! See, St. Patrick himself was born to Roman parents, essentially making him Italian. And you know what goes great with Irish beer? You guessed it--lasagna! And you can even put a bit of Jamesons in your after-dinner cappuccino.

You're welcome, friends!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Observations on Current State of GOP Primary

1) If nothing else, this is at least entertaining. Remember boring, quick primaries such as 2004 when (snore!) John Kerry "wrapped it up" after the Iowa caucus? Or Al Gore was basically annointed in 2000? This train wreck at least gets far more voters involved, and gives the media plenty to write about.

2) Which brings me to the idiotic argument floated by Newt Gingrich and his supporters. (Or should that be supporter? Is anyone really thinking he is ever going to sit in the White House? Maybe if he changed his name to Lars Reckingson, and grew a mustache) This idea that "the media elites want to claim that Romney's inevitable, we'll show 'em!" I just am not seeing any love for Romney from the media, and more important, the only thing the media really wants? A good story. Romney winning quickly means a longer lull before the fall campaign heats up. The media love every bit of Newt and Santorum messing things up for Mitt.

3) Romney's pandering--talking about eating grits, or driving American cars--is more embarrassing than a rapping Granny. It's reminiscent of John Kerry going hunting or eating cheese steaks (again what's with these crazy Massholes and their inability to fake being regular? Weird state, or commonwealth, that place is). News flash--southerners aren't going to say "hey, he eats what we eat! He's got my vote now for sure!" Just say "look, I'm really rich right now. I could lose $100 million tomorrow and still have more than any of you ever will. But being down home isn't going to make a bit of difference in the Oval Office." They'd probably respect him more for his honesty.

4) I don't really buy the "evangelicals won't vote for Romney because he's Mormon" theory. I'm not denying that there are Christianists who are prejudiced against Mormons--as there are also whites prejudiced against Obama for being black--but I think politics trumps all that. Remember, the hard right was perfectly willing to back Herman Cain who they saw as a conservative savior against Socialist McTeleprompter (or Obama, for the noncrazy). If Romney was seen as far right relative to the rest of the field, they'd be backing him, and people would be asking if it's because evangelicals won't back Catholics like Gingrich and Santorum.

5) Much as I find everything else about Santorum's candidacy nauseating, there is something almost touching about the fact that the two deepest-South states (Alabamippi, I call them) voting to nominate a Catholic grandson of Italian immigrants. That sort of goes to point 4). Last time an Italian Catholic was nominated his name was Al Smith, and he got Hoovered in the South.

6) Newt Gingrich would probably be a lot more appealing to mainstream voters if he lost his voice for a while, and had to just humbly nod along at the podium, using finger puppets to convey his key points. It's much harder to be an arrogant, pedantic jerk with finger puppets. And if it is possible, I'd really like to see that.

7) There was talk--at least during the Michigan and Ohio primaries--of Democrats voting in the Republican primary for Rick Santorum, basically to make November a cakewalk for Obama. Advice to Democrats--before you congratulate yourself on being so clever, keep in mind that as strong as the president looks now for the general election, many things can happen between now and November that can rapidly shift the polls. And while you may not like what Romney's pretending to believe right now, in Santorum you'll get a guy who actually think God favors his insane agenda.

Daylight Savings Time

With the beginning of Daylight Savings Time, we can always count on a few things:

1) Having that first shock of "did I wake up an hour earlier than normal for no reason?" before I remember I forgot to set my clock an hour ahead;

2) Rejoicing in the fact that it feels like I get to come home from work early because it is light out an hour later;

3) Hearing everyone bitch about DST messing up their schedules and talking about how we should do away with it.

Sure, we could be freaks like Arizonans and not observe DST, but then in a desert where they have scorpions and tarantulas to deal with they probably don't have time to set clocks back and forth. Originally, the idea was that DST was to help farmers, though this is pretty stupid because farmers could just as easily adjust their work hours to meet the daylight--it's not as though they have to say "well, it may be light out but I'm not waking up because it ain't 6 yet".

And Congress a few years back extended DST to cover a few more months, because they were trying to pass an energy efficiency bill and no one could agree on gas taxes, efficiency mandates or pretty much anything else, so they stuck with the low-hanging fruit of adjusting DST to somehow save electricity. Yay Congress! Keep earning those six-figure salaries!

Still, if they're going to do away with the time changes completely, my vote is to keep it at the current summer hours. Who really cherishes the daylight on our way to work, when compared with having some light at the end of the day when we can sit on our balconies and stroll our neighborhoods without fear of stray bullets from gangsters?

Friday, March 9, 2012

The Sarcasm Symbol

People who know me have come to expect that most of what I say is in a snarky, sarcastic vein--so when I'm sending an e-mail that is sincere, I feel the urge to add something along the lines of "I'm not being sarcastic here" at the end of it. But then, that would imply that any time I forget to add that, I am actually being sarcastic. There should be a simpler way, people!

Consider it--we use punctuation in many contexts:

1) To express empahsis, we use exclamation points. Such as, "I really think that tequila you found on the floor is a bad idea!"

2) To express doubt, we add a question mark, or several: "That's the tequila Morris left on the floor? That's what you plan to serve your date???"

3) To express an inner thought, we use parentheses: "I think we really ought to be careful what we drink at Morris' house (such as that tequila which now has a mysterious green color)."

So naturally, we need something to express when we're being sarcastic. I suggest we use the "^" symbol, since no one uses it for anything else except to suggest putting a peaked roof on something. So consider:

"I think that gash in your leg is healing nicely." Completely sincere!

"Surely that gash in your leg won't make you a freak and social pariah in this open, understanding society we live in.^" A bit sarcastic!

Let's see if this catches on.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

How About We Waste a Big Chunk of Land?

Every now and again someone comes up with an incredibly stupid idea. Canned cheese. Sweat pants with crap written on the butt. The film "Drive Angry 3D". And then there's the idea that the city of Washington, D.C. should use tax incentives to entice the Washington Redskins to move their practice facilities to a big chunk of land in Southeast.

Let me make this much clear--we're not even talking about having the actual stadium and NFL games played here--just their practice field. What sort of bullcrap is that??? What benefit does it bring the city to get a chance to pay good money just to watch practices (and you can bet a cheap bastard like Dan Snyder would continue to charge spectators good money for the chance to watch the players practice)? Why not just re-name the city as "Snyder's Bitch"? Then I can tell people I'm a resident of Snyder's Bitch, D.C. Foreign diplomats can travel from their home capitals to the U.S. capital, Snyder's Bitch, D.C. Even Northern Virginia and Suburban Maryland can get in on the action, as part of the Greater Snyder's Bitch metropolitan area.

See, if Snyder wants to locate his practice fields in D.C., he should of course have the right to buy or lease a large tract of land at market rates, paying applicable taxes, etc., for his operations there (and the property taxes if he buys the land). That's free market, no problem there. But the last thing the city needs to do is relax any regulations or give up tax revenue to try and encourage this. It isn't much of a job multiplier to use so much space as a practice field (which, presumably, would be blocked off to the public--at least a city park would have some quality of life benefit for residents), and it wouldn't provide much revenue source for the city compared to other uses. What better things can be done with a big chunk of land by the river just past the Capitol Hill area?

1) Encouraging developers to put in housing--with rent costs and house prices going up in the area, this could fill growing demand.

2) Encourage developers to put in retail strips--restaurants, storefronts, offices--to bring some jobs, revenue, and street life to the area which would discourage crime and provide benefits to the local community and the city at large.

3) Massive open-air markets enabling startups and small vendors to sell their wares far more cheaply than renting mall space. This would encourage entreprenurism right in the heart of the city.

4) Large public parks. Not a revenue-creator, but at least improves quality of life provided it doesn't turn into a haven for stalkers and flashers.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Oreo Turns 100!

With all the hubbub about Super Tuesday, and whether the GOP will nominate the rich slick guy no one likes, the papist nutjob no one likes, the bitter angry man no one likes, or the 1890s throwback no one in the GOP likes, we have missed a key centennial. On March 6th, 1912, the Oreo cookie was created!

Oreos have been through a lot of abuse over the years. Some nuts dunk them in milk, grind them up in iced cream, or make them into cakes. Others try adding extra creme filling, making Double Stuffs or Triple Stuffs or Are-You-Sure-You-Want-To-Do-This Stuffs. Still others change the filling or the cookie itself, adding mint flavor, chocolate flavor, or even vanilla cookies. But nothing really beats the basic combination at the usual consistency.

And how to eat it? Pull it apart and eat the creme first? Or just bite in like a regular cookie? Doesn't matter, that's why this is America! Maybe in Soviet Russia Comrade Stalin can tell you how to eat your cookie, but freedom-lovers around the world just do as they like.

Other cookies are still pretty good--chocolate chip, solid chocolate, peanut butter, and the Girl Scout thin mints. But is any pre-packaged cookie quite as good as the sandwiched creme between two chocolate slivers?

Someone noted that if you stacked all the Oreos ever eaten on top of one another, they'd reach from the Earth to the moon. I say, that's a strange use for cookies, but to each their own. Here's to another 100 years of delicious cookie making.


"Footloose", the 1984 Kevin Bacon vehicle, was the film that answered the question "how did this not kill Kevin Bacon's career?" They managed to hit upon every cliche--new kid in town is a rebel outsider, he hits it off with the preacher's wild-child daughter, inbred townsfolk ban dancing because they're morons--and provided another pop hit for Kenny Loggins, who dispelled the myth that beards are cool. (Chuck Norris and Eric Clapton worked for decades to build that myth, and they got Logginsed!)

Then, in 2011, Hollywood studios decided they'd absolutely ran out of sequels and reboots to make (which I find hard to believe, as they STILL haven't rebooted "Smokey and the Bandit"), and so they made the remake of "Footloose". Deciding to take a risk by casting complete unknowns--except for Dennis Quaid and Andie McDowell, who I suppose are unknown enough these days--and moving the setting from the midwest to very rural Georgia, they otherwise pretty much copied the original. The cliched, stupid original.

Because the deep south actually has black people, the re-make had to actually put black characters in the film (you'll note that the original was whiter than D.C. Bikeshares customer base). Happily, there are no racial issues broached in the film, which proves that the deep south no longer has racial problems. (Haley Barbour was right after all! Thanks for proving it, Footloose!) The town's pastor, played by Quaid, supports the ongoing ban on dancing, because his son and four other kids got killed in a car accident after drinking and driving at some out of town party where there was dancing. This makes about as much sense as banning french fries because Jeffrey Dahmer ate some after murdering one of his victims.

Of course, the Boston townie wins the hearts of the townsfolk and the pastor, convincing him that his daughter's road to sin and lechery could take a welcome detour in his pants, and everyone learns that dancing is great after all, hooray. But I think there are some key unanswered issues:

1) How the hell did a townful of kids who never danced before--because of the ban--suddenly know how to dance like professionals at the movie's climax?

2) The townsfolk at the church scenes were all white, implying that the black townsfolk attend a different church. What did the black church's pastor have to say about this dancing ban? Is he and the white pastor in cahoots?

3) Shouldn't there be at least one Jew or atheist in the town who says "hey what's this deal about the dancing?"

4) With all the effort expended arguing about dancing, shouldn't someone at least point out that these kids should be studying so they can go to college and leave this backwards town?

5) I find it hard to believe a Boston townie wouldn't have more of an issue with the alcohol ban than the dancing ban.

6) If I have kids, I plan to prohibit them from learning to dance. If they protest, I'll make them watch Footloose. Then they'll understand.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Rich People Problems

With all the talk this year about 99 percenters versus 1 percenters, many legitimate questions are raised. Such as, why 99 percent versus 1 percent? How did people in the second percentile (the very very very rich, who are not quite very very very very rich) manage to join the pitchfork wielding mobs? Can the 1 percent be even further split off, so that multimillionaire Theresa Heinz Kerry can storm the gates of billionaire Warren Buffet's mansion? (Considering she likely lives in a nicer home than he does, it'd seem a bit odd).

One common theme is the outright mockery heaped upon rich people who claim that they're not really that rich when you consider their high cost of living. (See item number 6 in this article) It was also laid bare in Tom Wolfe's "Bonfire of the Vanities" where a bond trader making almost a million dollars a year (in the mid-'80s, which is about a trillion dollars a year now) was just barely breaking even due to his lifestyle. Those of us making do on less quite rightly laugh at these pleas--oh, poor little rich person, you can't afford the $50K a year private elementary school for your kids? Have to skip the week in the Hamptons this summer? Boo freaking hoo!

However, in our mockery we should also keep in mind that we middle-income Americans tend to complain about things that would earn the righteous mockery of very poor Americans. I'd complain quite a bit if I couldn't afford to heat my home above 60 degrees in the winter, or could only afford Ramen for dinner (though Ramen is pretty delicious. Just not every night!). Wouldn't a Bangladeshi rope farmer or a New Delhi landfill-dweller see my plight just the same as I'd see Paris Hilton complaining about her chauffeur being out sick?

There's two lessons in this:

1) Everyone should have the right to complain. There's always someone worse off than you, of course, but if we had to go by the standard that we can't complain if someone is relatively worse off then no one could complain about a broken leg so long as someone else out there has been set on fire and left in a pit of ants.

2) When complaining, we should have some perspective, because to someone else we may look just like that rich jerk who complains about having to live off a quarter million dollars a year and cancel their golf club membership. So we can all complain, but our complaints are likely going to be mocked.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Mitt's Sister Souljah Moment

Often, a winning presidential campaign can be defined by a key moment when the candidate takes what at least appears to be a bold stand against certain extremes in their party. The best example of this is Bill Clinton's "Sister Souljah" moment, when in the 1992 campaign he publicly condemned the remarks of some obscure rapper whose own remarks seemed to ask why blacks didn't take a break from killing on another to instead kill white people. (This wasn't exactly what Sister Souljah was calling for, but her statements were certainly interpreted this way) By condemning her statements, Clinton made a show of "bravery" by running up against her apologist, Jesse Jackson, who at that time was influential among the Democrats' black and liberal wings. This boosted Clinton's support among independents, made him look strong, and helped him win the presidency. Since then, a "Sister Souljah Moment" has come to mean the time a rising politician took a shot at his own side's sacred cows, looking both strong and more moderate at the same time.

Mitt Romney has just been given the chance to have his own "Sister Souljah" moment. Last week, the news world was agog with repeated comments by Rush Limbaugh to the effect that a 30 year old law student who had the nerve to testify to members of Congress in favor of contraception coverage in university health plans was a "prostitute" and a "slut" who should post sex videos online. The comments were not just crass and crude--I am a fan of crass and crude things generally--but they were also mean and pointlessly insulting. There's really no debate on that matter.

Because Limbaugh for some reason holds a lot of sway as a conservative pundit (and yes, William F Buckley must be spinning in his grave), and because the issue at hand is also a matter of public policy, this would have been a great moment for Romney to have a Sister Souljah moment of his own. When reached for comment on Limbaugh's remarks, all he'd have to say is something along the lines of: "What Rush said about this woman was vile and uncalled for, and he ought to apologize sincerely and personally to her for it. She was participating in a civil discussion about whether and how certain health coverage should be paid for, and exercising her constitutional rights while doing so. To be the target of such epithets, even if only intended in jest, is beyond the pale and quite disgusting."

This would have done a few things:

1) It would have gotten Mitt Romney the spotlight on this issue, right as we're about to enter Super Tuesday, because it would have been the strongest condemnation of Rush from a major GOP candidate since Limbaugh first became a household name.

2) It would have shown moderates and independents that Mitt is not beholden to the party's right wing, and that at heart he's a normal, reasonable guy. And those are the key voters to watch this fall.

3) It would have looked like leadership, even though it takes only common sense to do so.

And really, what would be the risk? That Limbaugh would go ahead and endorse Rick Santorum? Fine, add that dubious advantage to Preacher Rick--Santorum gets less and less likely to become the nominee the more people realize he's a complete theocrat. And what conservative could really see what Limbaugh said and say "right on! You tell her!"?

Instead, though, Romney went with a mild rebuke, noting that Rush used language "I wouldn't have used." Really, Mitt? Sure you're not being too hard on Mr. Limbaugh???

This may later be seen as the moment that could have made Mitt Romney a winner, but his fecklessness may have sunk him.

One Year Anniversary

Today marks one year of marriage--and to celebrate my wife has taken stock of my lifestyle and said to herself "this guy needs to be able to make his own soda at home". So she got me a Sodastream (TM), this brilliant contraption that uses CO2 cannisters to carbonate regular old water, to which you can add syrups and other flavorings. Now, you might be thinking to yourself "why would I need to make my own soda? The store sells soda!" But then, when they invented indoor plumbing a lot of people probably thought to themselves "hey, I have a perfectly good hole in the back yard!" See, the Sodastream (TM) is sort of a life-altering appliance.

Picture it--now, instead of hauling big bottles of Coke from the store, I can just fire up my soda at home. Want less calories? No problem, just put in less syrup! Add fresh fruit if you're that sort of fancy pants, or even add chocolate or vanilla. Prefer your drink a bit fizzier than the suits at Pepsico think it should be? This is your way of sticking it to the man!

Let's pretend your boss is coming over for dinner and you're hoping to win the Brinkmeyer account and get that big promotion. And here he is saying "wow I could sure go for a soda, but not some ho-hum Sprite or Dr. Pepper. I need something a bit more real!" Well, pre-Sodastream (TM) you would have had to say "well tough turkey, boss man! I'm not a miracle worker!" But now, in the year of our Sodastream (TM) you can instead say "try this blackberry cola I just made, Hank! I can call you Hank, right?"

So I'm very excited with our new appliance, and it just goes to show that one year into our marriage my wife knows me quite well. Happy One Year, and here's to many more!

Friday, March 2, 2012

Rush Does What We Expect of Rush, People Somehow Surprised, News at 11

Just when you thought political discourse couldn't get any lower, noted thinker Rush "Problem?" Limbaugh manages to pull a little more water out of the pool. I generally pay about as much attention to what Rush says as I do to Bill Maher, since both get by on bombastic trolling barbs aimed solely to fire up their true believers and rile everyone else, but it seems this time Rush managed to get the attention he sorely craves.

During the recent Capitol Hill debates over whether private insurance companies--notably those affiliated with Catholic institutions--should be required to provide contraceptive coverage, the Democrats decided the best expert to make the case for requiring such coverage was a Georgetown Law student named Sandra Fluke. (Georgetown Law's student health plan apparently does not cover contraceptive coverage--when I attended over a decade ago, I don't recall what exactly they did cover, though it wasn't much and it was still expensive. I never found condoms to be so expensive at the drugstore--even today they're about $15 a box--that I tried getting them through a health plan, though.)

Fluke's testimony focused on the high cost of contraception for her, and Rush commented in his usual form by reasonably discussing whether Catholic-affiliated institutions should be required to have their health plans cover purchases that go against their religious doctrine. Oh wait, no, he instead compared Ms. Fluke to a "slut" and a "prostitute" because she wanted to be "paid for sex". (I should note--if having her condoms subsidized makes her a prostitute, then we live in a world filled with hookers. A Charlie Sheen fantasy!)

Limbaugh's statements about Fluke (eventually culminating in him suggesting she post sex videos online) aren't really worthy of discussion--sometimes you just have to ignore things like that just like you'd ignore a three-year-old yelling "poop!" over and over again to get attention. Particularly since Rush's comments gloss over the real discussion we should be having.

Namely, that is--should the government be telling private health plans what they should and shouldn't cover? If so, where do we draw the line? Most people agree access to contraception is a good thing--and should be encouraged, as even the cost of subsidizing it can be far slighter than the harms it prevents (disease, unwanted pregnancy). And moreover, should there be conscience exemptions, and how far should those go? If a Catholic organization can be exempted from funding birth control, then why can't a Catholic taxpayer be exempt from letting their tax dollars be spent on the same? Is a general state subsidy less intrusive and more fair than an unfunded mandate on a private entity? And did anyone really think some law student's story of how expensive it is for her to buy condoms (and why were her sex partners not helping out, anyway???) would really move a lot of hearts? This isn't exactly equivalent to the widow who mortgaged her house to pay for her husband's cancer treatments, after all.

But of course, any hard debate and intelligent discussion gets lost the minute the civil discourse gets "Limbaughed". Now we're talking about "slut shaming" and how we define "prostitute".


Apparently there's this group of people out there called "extreme couponers" who have elevated their basic cheapness to a form of sport. These aren't your ordinary "hey look I can save on toilet rolls with this coupon, I'll bring it next time I'm at the store" people--no, the "extreme" couponers will spend countless hours rummaging through the trash to collect multiple coupons from both manufacturers and stores, bring them all in and force the cashier to apply "extreme" discounts, sometimes even getting the store to pay them to take their products, and causing an "extreme" headache for ordinary shoppers like me who get stuck behind them on line.

Stores are now trying to fight this scourge of extremely low-class cheapskates. You see, "extreme" couponers not only take up "extreme" amounts of time at the checkout, but they also tend to clear out all the stock in certain items in order to take full advantage of their coupons. I have a few suggestions for the stores:

1) Make sure your coupons read "one per customer, cannot be combined with any other offer".

2) Set up a special checkout lane for "coupons only" so that couponers (who always take longer) won't hold up normal shoppers. This line should also be reserved for old ladies who pay by check, people who want to flirt with the cashiers, or anyone else who doesn't have their lives together.

3) Give your cashiers full license to publicly shame any "extreme" couponer. Let them know there will be no adverse employment action if they decide to go on the intercom and say "price check on cheapskate special! Price check on cheapskate special for lowlife who has too much time on his hands!" There is some business you're better off losing.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

The Daily Ponder

One thing about waking up before it's light out and having a bed-mate who is still asleep and not wanting to wake her is that it means picking clothes while essentially color blind. This often leads to clashing colors, often different colored socks and one day even completly unmatched loafers (which was fortunately noticed once I was out in my hallway, rather than at work). This would be much easier if I simply have every pair of slacks and every shirt of the exact same make and color and pattern--simplicity itself! I even heard Einstein did that--had every suit and shirt and tie exactly the same--just so he wouldn't waste any time deciding what to wear each day.

This gets me thinking--why is it so important to have an outfit that looks different every day? Is it to try and prove to the world that we're not re-wearing the exact same clothes, day in and day out, without washing them between wearings? Is it to prove our wealth, showing just how many different shirts and pants we have? Are we somehow all expressing our individuality with new colors and patterns each day?

None of those above reasons seem to matter with those who are required to wear uniforms to work, otherwise you'd see police officers wearing navy blue on Monday, sky blue on Tuesday, khaki on Wednesday, and so forth. We seem to trust that those in uniform are switching out identical outfits each day and cleaning them between wearings, we assume they're wealthy enough to afford clothes besides their uniforms, and their individuality can be expressed in other ways. But somehow, the rest of us need unique ties and shirts and jackets and skirts and the rest. To do otherwise would be odd.

Of course, I could always just pick out what I'm going to wear the night before.